Pandemic Effect on Students
The difficulties we are facing with this year’s students reminds me of a story I once heard, told by meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach. The story concerns a white tiger named Mohini who lives at a zoo.
Mohini was put in a 12 foot by 12 foot cage upon arrival at the zoo, and lived much of her life in this prison. She spent years of her life pacing out the dimensions of her cage. Eventually, zoo staff were able to construct a larger habitat for the tiger, with much more open space. However, when they set Mohini free in the new space, she found a small corner of it and resumed her pacing, tracing out a 12 by 12 box in the grass.
Our current seniors spent a significant amount of their high school careers “boxed in,” like Mohini, in the confined space of their parents’ homes, with little exposure to the outside world and social exposure to no one but their parents. It is no wonder that now, even when restrictions have been lifted, a psychological cage remains. Being psychologically boxed in can leave one afraid to take risks and go outside of the comfort zone, which is also reflected in less-than-stellar essays. Perhaps a lack of boldness and daring in the writing is a symptom of a pandemic that asked an entire generation of enthusiastic students to put their adventurousness on hold.
Our puzzle is how to encourage this generation to rekindle the inner adventurousness that makes for bold, standout essays. It is likely that we, too, have a bit of that psychological cage around us. The story of Mohini often elicits compassion from listeners. Can we hold that compassion for ourselves and our students, being patient as we slowly find our way back into the open grass?
Simon Ginet, a college essay coach at A Starting Line, joined the team last year after getting his Master’s Degree in Education/Counseling from Boston University. He’s worked in the mental health field with trauma survivors around the same age as the students we work with, and has studied psychology as a student and layperson since 2009.